How to Master Virtual Event Time Zone Planning
Have you ever thought something was simple and then, pow! You get into the nitty gritty and realize that it’s not nearly as straightforward as you thought?
Planning an international virtual event with live sessions in different time zones is a great example. After recently helping a client in the software industry host a 3-day virtual event with over 60,000 attendees from around the world, we’ve learned a thing or two about how complex time zones can get.
In this blog, I’m going to highlight four virtual event solutions that tackle time zone differences and maximize your live session reach for attendees participating from different regions. Armed with these solutions, you'll become a time zone planning guru in no time flat.
Solution 1: Don't Change Anything
Let’s start with a scenario that we’ll use throughout this article to make sure we’re comparing apples to apples. Say you are planning an international virtual event with keynote sessions, breakouts, networking, exhibits, and more. Your company headquarters are in California and you want to have a live plenary session at 10:00 AM PT. You are hosting attendees from three different regions of the world. The Americas, Europe, and Asia-Pacific.
You have an amazing keynote speaker delivering an exciting new product launch and you want everyone to get a chance to hear about it. To prevent time zone confusion, you decide to use a flexible virtual platform like MeetingPlay’s Virtual Engagement Platform. Your attendees will choose their time zone during onboarding and they will see the session time on the agenda in both Pacific and their own time zone.
The problem is it’s now 7:00 PM in Paris and 1:00 AM in Beijing. While your attendees might be willing to wake in the middle of the night to catch the World Cup, it’s unlikely they’ll get out of bed to watch your keynote.
Doing nothing to accommodate your attendees in Europe or Asia Pacific might make planning your virtual event more simple. But it’s pretty bad for attendee experience. Is this really a solution? Only if you don’t mind if your international attendees missing out on most of your event.
To create an optimal attendee experience for all of your attendees, let’s take a closer look at some other options.
Solution 2: Offer Virtual Session Multiple Times
Now let’s say you want your keynote session to go live at exactly 10:00 AM in each region. One option is to offer your keynote session multiple times. In this scenario, when your attendees are onboarded into your virtual event software, they not only choose their time zone but also select their region. Based on their selections, the keynote session occurring in their region is the only one visible on their agenda.
This solution creates a better attendee experience. But what about your keynote presenter? Are they willing to get up in the middle of the night to give their presentation to attendees in the Asia Pacific region? Unlikely. A work-around for this is to have multiple presenters give the same keynote presentation. Going back to our product launch example, you may want to consider having the heads of your Europe and Asia Pacific divisions deliver the keynotes. Another idea is to choose a presenter that’s well-known in that region to generate excitement among your virtual audience.
Bottom line, to create the best experience for audiences in different regions, you may require more sessions. If you originally planned on twenty sessions, in reality, you may need triple that amount.
Solution 3: Plan Separate Virtual Events
So far, we’ve identified a few time zone solutions for your live keynote. Now, it’s time to add an additional layer of complexity. Instead of just having live keynotes, you also want to hold networking sessions and live training at times that make the most sense for your attendees in their particular regions. As an example, cultural differences may dictate that you offer a live morning yoga session at 8:00 AM Pacific but it would better serve your European audience to have the yoga session at 10:00 CEST. Or, schedule your 5:00 PM networking happy hour for 20:00 CEST in a European city such as Rome .
While you can have all your sessions be part of one virtual event, if your agenda is complex, it could make more sense to offer a separate virtual event for each region.
This is a great solution if you want to optimize both your attendee experience and your presenter experience. Now, you may be wondering, "What’s the catch?" The answer is cost. There are cost considerations to take into account with planning three separate events instead of one.
Which brings me to solution number 4.
Solution 4: Simulated Live Sessions
On-demand content is an easy way to solve many potential issues associated with having a virtual event that takes place across different regions. Make no mistake. Engagement tools with pre-recorded content have advanced by leaps and bounds recently. But there is something magical about seeing the clock countdown to a live keynote. To take a lesson from Snapchat and Instagram Stories, there’s an urgency and anticipation with things that are temporary. This same concept holds true for a virtual decision scheduled at a designated time. It’s that fear of missing out (FOMO) that can’t easily be replicated with on-demand content.
Enter a novel solution: simulated live sessions. A simulated live session generates the same buzz and excitement for the audience as a live stream presentation. You can offer simulated live sessions multiple times to accommodate different regions with less burden on your presenters.
Going back to our keynote product launch example, the keynote presentation would be pre-recorded but instead of being available on-demand, it would be set for a specific time with a countdown, etc. The keynote presenter would be available live to answer questions and chat with the audience in real-time during the presentation. A key benefit of simulated live is that your entire audience will receive the same, consistent message in their time zone and the live component keeps things fresh. Because these sessions are not available on-demand, your attendees feel an urgency to participate.
Many of our customers blend semi-live sessions with live and on-demand content for the most flexible, engaging experience.
Summing it Up
Knowing time zone complexities and staying wise to available solutions will help you plan the best virtual event experience for participants no matter where they are in the world.
If you are planning an international virtual event, check out MeetingPlay’s Virtual Event Solution. Our experienced team can help you navigate time zones for successful virtual events, both large and small.